MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Show biz and sports have roots in South Florida, which can be traced to a Black baseball team.
Miami never had a team in the organized Negro Leagues.
But the most successful, longest-lasting, classic barnstorming Black baseball team is forever connected to Overtown’s historic Dorsey Park.
The team? The Miami Giants, which morphed into the Miami Ethiopian Clowns.
“Johnny Pierce, known as ‘Red Pierce,’ was a local bootlegger numbers man when he funded the team,” said Abel Sanchez.
Barnstorming across the south, the Miami Giants developed into a high-quality team with an entertainment punch.
“Kind of a circus meets baseball kind of thing,” said Sanchez.
The Clowns traveled the country playing and entertaining in bandbox ball parks – a brutal existence in the Jim Crow era.
The flavor of the barnstorming Black teams captured in the comedy motion picture “The Bingo Long Traveling All Stars & Motor Kings.”
The Clowns were a hit not only with Black fans but whites also. And when they stepped out of their grass skirts and outrageous personas, they played amazing baseball.
University of Miami Professor Don Spivey wrote the definitive biography of Black pitching legend Satchel Paige.
“That is one of the great things Negro Leaguers understood, and other sports would have to learn these lessons, that it is about entertainment, reaching out to your audience,” Spivey said.
The Clowns came under the control of promoter Syd Pollock, went legit and became part of organized Negro League Baseball. First as the Cincinnati Clowns, then moving to Indianapolis.
“They still did the vaudeville act and entertainment,” explained Sanchez.
How about those grass skirts and war paint?
“When you look at historical times, this was entertaining. Forget white folks or Black folks. Black folks were entertained by these Clowns doing their routine,” Spivey said. “They understood you had a product and you wanted to get people into the stands.”
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The clowns were the last of the barnstormers, drawing crowds up until the 1980s, the longest-running Negro Leagues team, and it all started right here in Miami.